Friends, I’m not sure what to make of D. A. Carson‘s recent piece on spiritual disciplines in the pages of Themelios. Let’s say I’m processing. I see in his reflections both unfortunate Protestant bias (I think he misses entirely the intense Christocentrism of medieval mystics such as Julian of Norwich, which his colleague Carl Trueman in an earlier piece in the same organ did NOT miss), and acute gospel wisdom (“disciplines” must not mean gritting our teeth and doing things under our own steam–a point he makes later in the piece). I’d be interested in comments from y’all. Below is a sample. The whole article may be found here.
How shall we evaluate this popular approach to the spiritual disciplines? How should we think of spiritual disciplines and their connection with spirituality as defined by Scripture? Some introductory reflections:
(1) The pursuit of unmediated, mystical knowledge of God is unsanctioned by Scripture, and is dangerous in more than one way. It does not matter whether this pursuit is undertaken within the confines of, say, Buddhism (though informed Buddhists are unlikely to speak of “unmediated mystical knowledge of God“—the last two words are likely to be dropped) or, in the Catholic tradition, by Julian of Norwich. Neither instance recognizes that our access to the knowledge of the living God is mediated exclusively through Christ, whose death and resurrection reconcile us to the living God. To pursue unmediated, mystical knowledge of God is to announce that the person of Christ and his sacrificial work on our behalf are not necessary for the knowledge of God. Sadly, it is easy to delight in mystical experiences, enjoyable and challenging in themselves, without knowing anything of the regenerating power of God, grounded in Christ’s cross work.
(2) We ought to ask what warrants including any particular item on a list of spiritual disciplines. For Christians with any sense of the regulative function of Scripture, nothing, surely, can be deemed a spiritual discipline if it is not so much as mentioned in the NT. That rather eliminates not only self-flagellation but creation care. Doubtless the latter, at least, is a good thing to do: it is part of our responsibility as stewards of God’s creation. But it is difficult to think of scriptural warrant to view such activity as a spiritual discipline—that is, as a discipline that increases our spirituality. The Bible says quite a lot about prayer and hiding God’s Word in our hearts, but precious little about creation care and chanting mantras.
- Carson and Keller on Confessionalism, Boundaries, and the Gospel (westernthm.wordpress.com)
- Giving As Spiritual Discipline (christianlifehacker.wordpress.com)
- Dark Nights of the Soul – the Leadership Journal article (gratefultothedead.wordpress.com)
- Why Solitude? (christianlifehacker.wordpress.com)
- Flotsam and jetsam (11/14) (westernthm.wordpress.com)
- D.A. Carson: “We Will Not Drift Toward Holiness!” (samuelatgilgal.wordpress.com)
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I think Carson (as excerpted) does a disservice to his tradition. Jonathan Edwards would say we NEED the religious affections, which I believe would fall into the category of mystical knowledge. Edwards presided over the Great Awakening, which included plenty of mystical knowledge of God. As Edwards said, we know such affections to be of God and scriptural by their fruit. We cannot see the source in the root of the tree, but we know it is healthy by the fruit it produces.